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Frankincense resin and oil of the Boswellia tree.	 Source: Madeleine Steinbach/Adobe Stock

Ancient Remedy of the Boswellia Tree - Still Great for Joint Health!

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The Boswellia tree has long been used in traditional Indian, Chinese, Arab and African rituals and medicines. This gum resin from several species of Boswellia is also known as frankincense, which has been traded on the Arabian Peninsula for more than 5,000 years. It was also traded from the Horn of Africa during the Silk Road era. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote in The History that frankincense was harvested from trees in southern Arabia, and that the gum was dangerous to harvest because of winged snakes that guarded the Boswellia trees. Frankincense has also been used in traditional medicines to treat inflammatory diseases. And it seems that the ancient healers were onto something, as recent modern trials have shown Boswellia gum resin to be very effective for joint pain and care, reports Daily Mail .

Using Boswellia Gum Resin to Heal Human Joints Naturally

As we age, some of the 360 joints in the human body begin to show signs of wear and tear. The knee, hand, wrist, shoulder, and hip joints are the ones most commonly affected. Eating plenty of fruit, dark leafy vegetables, and oily fish, all of which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, helps to keep joints healthy. Maintaining a healthy body weight reduces pressure on the joints, particularly the knees.

Ancient and modern medicine both agree that Boswellia gum resin or Frankincense is a natural way to treat joint pain, without irritating the stomach like modern joint treatments do. (Elnur/Adobe Stock)

Ancient and modern medicine both agree that Boswellia gum resin or Frankincense is a natural way to treat joint pain, without irritating the stomach like modern joint treatments do. ( Elnur/Adobe Stock)

For some years now, turmeric, a herb that is used in most Indian recipes, has also been recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has indeed been wholeheartedly embraced by health and wellness enthusiasts in the Western world. From coffee bars to restaurants, all boast turmeric-laced items on their menus. Turmeric supplements are also very popular.

Resin extracted from the trunk of the Boswellia serrata tree could well be hailed as the next miracle cure from the traditional Eastern medicine battery. According to Drweil.com, boswellic acids, the key active ingredient of the resin, have been shown in clinical trials to have the same inflammation-reducing action as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

The long-term use of Boswellia resin has a key advantage over NSAIDS because it doesn’t appear to lead to irritation or ulceration of the stomach. The website quotes the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD) as saying that Boswellia extracts “can reduce pain and improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis in joints . Research shows that it might decrease joint pain by 32% to 65%.”

The Long History of Frankincense Gum Resin

Frankincense was such an important part of ancient religious and cultural ceremonies that it was transported from its remote harvesting areas to markets along the Incense Trade Route (or Incense Road), which lead from Arabia to East Africa and India, as well as on the Silk Road that passed through Parthia (northeastern Iran) and went on through Central Asia to the lands of China.

Most notably, it was burnt to create a permeating scent during rites of passage such as weddings, childbirth, and funerals. In fact, it even accompanied Egyptian pharaohs on their journey into the hereafter, used both to embalm their bodies and perfume the chambers in which they were laid to rest. It was used to oil hair, sweeten the breath and smoke from it as eye makeup and in tattoos. It was also used to mend cracked pots and bark from its tree as a dye.

In India, gum from Boswellia serrata , apart from its religious and ceremonial use, was considered one of the most valued ingredients of Ayurvedic medicine. “ Gajabhakshya”, a Sanskrit name sometimes used for Boswellia, suggests that elephants too enjoyed it as a part of their diet. Ayurveda lists a range of uses for Indian frankincense, from joint relief to mental clarity.

Boswellia gum resin cut for harvesting frankincense in Wadi Dawkah Frankincense Nature Resort, Dhofar Mountain, Oman. (jbphotographylt/Adobe Stock)

Boswellia gum resin cut for harvesting frankincense in Wadi Dawkah Frankincense Nature Resort, Dhofar Mountain, Oman. ( jbphotographylt/Adobe Stock)

Today, Indian Boswellia Trees and Frankincense Dominate

According to an article in the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences , three species of trees of the Boswellia genus are considered “true frankincense” producing trees. Today, most frankincense is still produced from the Arabian Peninsula region Boswellia sacra species. Somaliland is the world’s largest producer, but the variety grown in India also has a very long and prosperous history.

Boswellia serrata , commonly known as “Indian olibanum” or “Indian frankincense” is found in northwestern, central and the northern part of eastern India. It produces the oleo gum resin locally known as salai, salai guggul or dhup.

Boswellia gum resin extraction is a laborious process. When the tree trunk is cut the tree exudes a gum resin. Then it is stored for many months in special bamboo baskets to harden, after which it is gradually broken up into small pieces with a wooden mallet, during which impurities are removed manually. While generally used to make incense powder and sticks, Boswellia resin is used widely in India’s very ancient and still extremely popular Ayurvedic natural medicine tradition.

Apart from being a pain treatment for joint issues, Boswellia resin has also been considered an effective remedy for:

  • diarrhea
  • fevers (antipyretic)
  • skin and blood diseases
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • mouth sores
  • bronchitis
  • asthma
  • liver stimulation.

It seems modern medicine too is recognizing Boswellia’s anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory uses. Boswellia serrata supplements, suitably tweaked to increase absorption by the human body, are now turning up in Western markets.

Dr Miriam Ferrer, the head of product development at FutureYou Cambridge, told the Daily Mail , “Lots of people have heard of curcumin [the active ingredient of turmeric], but not so many know about Boswellia. Boswellia works on its own or as a complement. The active ingredients work very differently but can offer mutual support for joint health.”

Today, Boswellia gum resin or frankincense is as valuable as it was in Biblical times and remains a proven treatment for joint pain and much more in traditional Ayurvedic Indian medicine. It now seems to be poised to become big for seekers of alternative medicines and therapies in the West. Will it take the Western world by storm as turmeric has? Only time can tell.

Top image: Frankincense resin and oil of the Boswellia tree.Source: Madeleine Steinbach /Adobe Stock

By Sahir Pandey

References

Daily Mail. 2022. 'It's the new turmeric': Could a natural extract called Boswellia restore your joint health? Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10734625/Could-little-known-extract-called-Boswellia-restore-joint-health.html

Drweil.com. Boswellia. Available at: https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/herbs/boswellia/

Siddiqui, M. Z. 2011. Boswellia Serrata , A Potential Anti-inflammatory Agent: An Overview . Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309643/

Comments

Stopped my child's seizures with it just as a volatile oil. Quite annoyed with myself that I didn't think of that earlier. Since then I have started using capsules myself for inflammation. Out of capsules it can taste foul.
There is a reason why it's mentioned in the Bible, alongside gold as a gift fit for a king though

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